Charleston Southern's Saah Nimley had 22 points and Arlon Harper added 19 as CSU extended its winning streak to eight games with a hard-fought 79-75 win over Liberty on Saturday night at the Vines Center.
Charleston Southern (12-6, 7-0 Big South) won at the Vines Center for the first time since 2006 and extended its winning streak, the third longest in school history, but it wasn't easy.
The Bucs built a number of leads in each half but could never put the Flames away.
CSU held a 74-66 advantage with 6:21 left to play, only to see Liberty reel off an 8-0 to tie the game at 74-74 in the final minutes.
CSU would hold the Flames to a lone free throw over the final 2:53 to remain perfect in Big South play and move to 11-1 overall since Dec. 1.
"I'm proud of our guys on this one," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said after the win. "This was a tough win. With three minutes to play, I looked at our guys and said ‘I want this, every game is not going to be a (double-digit) win. I want us to execute, relax, and play' and they did. This is a tough place to play and have not won here in a long time."
CSU won with its defense down the stretch. Neither team had a field goal in the final four minutes. Liberty had a couple of tough looks from three-point range with a chance to take the lead or tie in the final 30 seconds, but couldn't connect. CSU's Paul Gombwer and Allie Fullah each grabbed big rebounds knocked down free throws to help seal the win. Fullah had a career-high five blocked shots.
"We stepped up on defense (in the final seconds) and did a good job defending the three on the final possession," Radebaugh said of Liberty's possessions in the final minute. "This was very much a team effort and a team win.
However, it was the offense that kept the Bucs in the lead almost throughout.
Nimley came up three points shy of his career high, which he set on Wednesday night at Presbyterian, with 23 points. He made 6-of-12 three-point attempts. He also added 10 rebounds, his second double-digit rebounding game this season.
Harper added a 9-of-15 effort and had eight boards. The Bucs hung tough in the rebounding column, getting out-rebounded only 44-42 despite playing most of the game with a much smaller lineup.
"Give our guys credit, we battled," Radebaugh added. "It wasn't pretty, we didn't shoot the ball well, we made a lot of mistakes, but we found a way to win on the road in late January to remain undefeated in our league, and that's all you can ask for in a tough environment."
Seniors Jeremy Sexton and Mathiang Muo each added 14 points. Muo was 4-of-5 from three-point range.
The Bucs, who entered Saturday night's game as the national leader in made three-point field goals per game at 9.6, went 10-of-25 from behind the arc. Liberty was 11-for-27 in a matchup of the Big South's top three-point shooting teams.
CSU's balanced scoring was a much-needed answer for Liberty's Davon Marshall, who finished with a game-high 23 points. He hit 7-of-14 three-pointers and repeatedly rallied Liberty from six and eight-point deficits in each half.
Marshall missed a contested look from the top of the key in the final 10 seconds, which preserved the Bucs' streak and sets up what could be a historic week for CSU hoops.
The Buccaneers will try to match a nine-game winning streak put together in 1994-'95 on Wednesday night when they host Gardner-Webb. The school record for consecutive wins is 10.
The Bucs started slow as Liberty took a 7-3 attacking the offensive boards, but the Bucs answered. An old-fashioned three-point play by Arlon Harper on a reverse layup and a runner in the lane from Jeremy Sexton gave CSU an 8-7 lead. Harper would cap the 7-0 run with a steal and a dunk to give the Bucs a 10-7 lead.
The Flames retook the lead on back-to-back three pointers by Davon Marshall and Davon Roberts to take a 13-10 edge, but a Nimley three tied the game moments later to stop the run.
The two teams traded buckets until a steal and score by Sexton gave the Bucs a 28-23 lead with 6:11 to play in the first half. The score followed Mathiang Muo's second three of the first half.
CSU extended its lead to as many as seven at 38-31 in the half, before Liberty closed the gap to three at 41-38 at the break.
Muo opened the second half with his third three pointer of the game and Harper became the third Buc to move into double figures with a basket as CSU extended its lead to eight in the opening minutes of the half at 46-38.
Nimley would carry the Bucs over the next four minutes as he hit back-to-back three pointers and knocked down a pair of free throws as CSU kept some distance between itself and the Flames, but it could not put Liberty away.
Marshall answered with a three of his own, then capitalized on a CSU technical with two free throws to cut the lead to 62-58 with 11:28 to play.
Muo followed the free throw with another three from the right corner to push the lead back to seven, 65-58, but Liberty would tie the game behind Marshall's hot hand to set up the drama in the final minutes.
J.R. Coranado had a game-high 13 rebounds.
The Bucs host Gardner-Webb on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Buc Dome.